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Wait, that was a workout?

Pam LeBlanc
pleblanc@statesman.com
Winnie Hsia helps Meghan Miller in the beginners' class at Sky Candy, where you can strengthen your abs while doing aerial tricks.

Riding a mechanical bull, swishing your hips to beach music, gliding down the river on an oversized surfboard it doesn't sound like exercise, does it?

That's the point.

Sometimes the best workouts are the ones that don't feel like work.

We scoured the city, tracking down wacky workouts we think will distract you from the fact that you're chewing up calories, improving your flexibility and snapping muscles back into shape.

1 Admit it. You always dreamed of dashing off and landing a job as a trapeze artist at the traveling circus, didn't you?

Before you quit your day job, drop in for the Intro to Aerials class at Sky Candy, where you can learn to dangle from a trapeze, swing on a steel hoop called a lyra, cavort on fluttery silk sashes, or pose on ropes and rings.

It's far more strenuous than the instructors let on.

While they sashayed up and down billowing lengths of fabric, I scuttled like a panicky crab. Still, I mastered a few basic skills, such as the single leg lock on the silks. The mermaid, a horizontal pose, proved more challenging. Instead of a graceful maiden on a swaying stalk, I looked more like a dead beetle stuck in a spider web.

I felt like a kid on monkey bars when we hooked our knees over the trapeze, hung upside down and used our abs to hoist ourselves into the sitting position.

If my quaking abs were any indication, circus stars need astonishingly sturdy core muscles. Stick with this class and you'll get them.

If you go:Sky Candy is at 507 Calles St., No. 117. Introduction to Aerials classes cost $20 for a 90-minute session. For more information call 800-4998 or go to skycandyaustin.com .

2 I felt like a waterbug pedaling my way up the center of Lady Bird Lake on a hydrobike, which resembles a single-speed bicycle mounted on a pair of skinny yellow pontoons. You crank the pedals, which turn a prop, sending you gliding up and down the river.

The reward for your calorie-burning efforts? A new perspective on Lady Bird Lake — one that's higher than a kayak, more stable than a paddleboard, and, actually, not a bad workout.

It took me about 12 minutes to make my way from the Hyatt Regency Austin up to the mouth of Barton Creek. Along the way, I bobbed alongside a trio of sleek white swans, sent several bewildered ducks flapping and caught the attention of numerous curious turtles. (If a nutria had popped up, I think I could have taken it!)

If you go: Austin Water Bikes operates out of a tent near the hike-and-bike trail behind the Hyatt Regency Austin, 2008 Barton Springs Road. Hours are roughly 10 a.m. to dark daily, but call if the weather looks iffy. Cost is $22 per hour or $13 per half-hour; moonlight tours and bat tours extra. For more information, call Austin Water Bikes at 200-6555 or go to www.austin waterbikes.com .

3 We're in Texas, so a mechanical bull with rubber horns has to figure into the fitness equation.

Channel your inner John Travolta (in the "Urban Cowboy" days, of course) with a fitness class aboard a bovine-themed piece of exercise equipment named Brutus. An hourlong session at Travaasa Austin, a resort west of Austin near Lake Travis, had me honing my core muscles as I clamped my legs around the dipping and diving, electric-powered, brown and white cowhide-covered "bull."

The key is focusing on a spot on the back of the bull's head. And if you fall, don't worry. That's what the red, inflatable corral is for. Background music by Johnny Cash and George Strait helps, too.

Gripping that barrel-shaped torso while it bucks and spins works your upper and lower abdominal muscles, obliques, back and thighs. All that's missing is the rodeo buzzer at the end of a successful ride.

If you go:Travaasa Austin is at 13500 RM 2769. The class is available to overnight guests or as part of a day package at the resort. Rates start at $225 for a one-night stay or $175 per night for a three-night stay. For more information, call 258-7243 or go to travaasa.com/austin .

4 When the wave gods get stingy in Hawaii, the surfers switch to stand-up paddling. Now the sport — a kind of hybrid between canoeing and surfing — has traveled inland to Austin, where we've got plenty of flat water and an outdoorsy population looking for new ways to enjoy it.

The sport traces its roots to Polynesia, where it was an ancient form of surfing. Modern surfers picked it up as a way to keep in top form when the waves waned.

You won't exactly shred waves on Lady Bird Lake, but you will engage all those tiny muscles in your feet and trunk as you try to maintain your balance while standing upright.

Unlike surfers, who place one foot slightly in front of the other, stand-up paddlers put their feet shoulder-width apart, side by side. Then it's all about paddle-powered momentum.

It also offers an opportunity to count turtles, admire swans and check out gridlocked traffic overhead while gliding up and down the river.

If you go: The Expedition School offers two-hour stand-up paddle lessons at the City of Austin's Camacho Recreation Center, 34 Robert T. Martinez Jr. St. Cost is $45 per adult or $25 per youth (discount for groups) for lessons, or $15 per hour for grab-and-go paddle sessions. For more information, go to www.expeditionschool.org or call 626-6282. Stand-up paddleboards also are available for rent at the Rowing Dock, 2418 Stratford Drive, for $15 an hour, or at Austin Paddle Sports, 5214 Burleson Road, Suite 118, for $40 for half a day or $60 for a full day. A SUP Core Fitness class is offered at Pure Austin's Quarry Lake. Cost is $15 for members or $20 for nonmembers. For more information, go to www.austinpaddlesports.com .